The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs has asked the Washington State Liquor Control Board to enact a new rule that would force businesses to share data on lifted liquor.
As our state begins implementing a structure for legal marijuana use, some local law enforcement officials are expressing concern about changes brought by I-1183, the measure that privatized liquor sales in June 2012.
The Renton Police Department was already independently tracking liquor thefts from commercial businesses before the new law went into effect. In the five months before liquor privatization from January 1 through May 25 the department received 25 reports, totaling $1,834.00 in losses. In the seven months following the implementation of the new law the department received 109 reports totaling $12,419 in stolen alcoholic beverages.
“These reports do not include alcohol stolen from private citizens (strong arm robbery, residential burglary, etc.),” said Community Programs Coordinator Terri Vickers.
Another interesting fact, Vickers pointed out, is that liquor theft is really difficult to quantify. Last fall at an Organized Retail Crimes conference she learned that many businesses do not report all alcohol thefts.
“Each store/company sets their own criteria for what they do and do not report,” she said. For example, 'store A' might have a policy that they don't report alcohol thefts of less than $50, where 'store B' might report all liquor thefts no matter the value.
“Based on the comparison numbers,” she said, “there is clearly a significant problem with alcohol theft. Unfortunately, because so many alcohol thefts are unreported, the law enforcement community doesn't have an accurate picture of exactly how big the problem is.”
Soon, however, law enforcement may have a better understanding of the scope of liquor thefts in Washington state.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs, headed by Mercer Island Police Chief Ed Holmes, has asked the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) to require that private businesses begin reporting liquor thefts at their stores. Holmes outlined the reasons for the request in a letter sent to the board in late 2012 (see attached PDF).
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"As a result (of the passage of I-1183), we believe significant amounts of spirits are being diverted from legitimate sales and unlawfully making their way into the community," Holmes wrote. "This is resulting in increased access to alcohol by youth under 21 years of age, secondary unlawful sales of spirits, loss of legitimate sales tax collection, and an increasing black market focused on theft and resale of spirits."
WSLCB spokesman Brian Smith confirmed the board is considering whether to implement a new rule. Some public testimony has already been collected, he said, including a statement from the Northwest Grocery Association voicing opposition to the idea of required theft reporting. (Patch's attempts to reach the organization for a comment have not been successful.)
The board has just begun gathering information and input on the proposed changes but is taking the request seriously, Smith said.
“Public safety is No. 1," he said. "Anytime you get alcohol in the hands of teenagers and youth, it’s a big concern.”
The liquor board is scheduled to hear additional public testimony on the possiblity of the new reporting rule in late February, Smith said. People can also submit written comments to email@example.com.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would put additional restrictions on alcohol sales at self check-out machines. House Bill 1009 calls for an end to sales at self check-out lanes or "system that enables a customer to purchase items with little or no assistance" from a checker.